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Friday, June 1, 2012

Food as Medicine- Muscle Pain

I woke up two mornings in a row this week (Tuesday and Wednesday) with a stiff, sore neck. As the day progressed Tuesday, it got better and bothered me less and less. But Wednesday was pretty rough. I could not move my neck much side to side, and could not look up without excruciating pain. The day went on (parents out there reading- we don't get days off, right?) but it was a lot of effort to even unload the dishwasher. 

I suspect the cause of the stiffness and pain is several things. First, I lift and carry a 25-30 pound toddler and a 14 pound infant all day. Second, I have been trying to exercise more regularly, including a bit of jogging, abdominal work, arm and butt exercises. None of it involves weights- I only use my own weight so far, and it isn't as regular as I would like, but I did start after a long stint of not working out (mostly while pregnant.) Maybe I don't stretch enough. Third, it has gotten really warm and humid all of a sudden, so we have had fans going throughout the house, including the bedroom close to my side of the bed. The fan blowing while I sleep may be the biggest culprit, I think. When we have used AC in past summers, I have had similar neck problems- so I always protest using them- Chris usually suffers heat and humidity as a result. 

I didn't want to jump straight to a conventional treatment- IcyHot, aspirin, etc- without first trying natural methods. I dry-brushed my whole body. Dry skin brushing helps to rid the body of toxins, aiding the lymphatic system, and there could be toxins stored in my muscles contributing to the soreness. (source) Then I took a hot bath to relax the muscles. I stretched afterward while my muscles were loosened up. I had Chris apply Arnica gel to my neck and back. Arnica gel is used for muscle soreness, reducing inflammation, and healing bruises. (source) It all helped, but the soreness was definitely still there. 

I wanted to eat specific foods to support muscle health and recovery, though. I figure I should treat the problem from the inside out as well as outside in. To do this, I needed to address four components: fluid and electrolytes, glycogen, muscle and immune stress, and muscle protein. (sourceMost of  the reading I did on this topic was geared towards muscle recovery after moderate to heavy exercise, but I think a lot of what I learned can be used to repair muscle pain in general. 

Fluid and electrolytes are lost through perspiration- whether that is from exercise or not. It's been pretty hot, so there has been sweating. One cannot just drink plenty of water and be done with this loss though- sodium, magnesium and potassium need to be replenished. The best way to hydrate  quickly and efficiently and to replenish electrolytes is (in my opinion) coconut water. It is better at doing so than Gatorade, it matches human blood's pH, it has more potasium than a whole banana, 11% RDV of sodium, and 15% RDV of magnesium. This is all for very few calories and it also has 11% RDV of fiber. So I loaded up on it. (source)

Glycogen is stored in muscles and the liver while glucose is carried to working muscles through the blood. Both glycogen and glucose come from the breakdown of carbohydrates. (source) So I needed carbohydrates, high glycemic ones to be exact, in order to affect the insulin in my blood to get glucose and glycogen to my muscles quickly. But I didn't want to eat JUST simple carbs (like bread). I wanted at least some of those carbs to have other nutrients as well. I did eat a few pieces of (crusty, small ingredient list) bread, but I also ate a few handfuls of raisins. They provide 44% RDV carbs, but also 35% potassium, 13% magnesium, and 24% fiber (per cup). (source)

Oxidative stress (free radical damage) is one cause of muscle and immune stress (another cause is inflammation from increased blood flow to muscle tissue tears.) Rest and time will help heal muscle tissue tears, but to address the oxidative stress I needed to get vitamins A, C, and E, beta-carotene, and selenium. To get the vitamin A and beta-carotene (which is only one type of vitamin A) I had several handfuls of spinach and a bunch of carrots. To get the vitamin C, I ate 3-4 oranges. To get the vitamin E I had some sunflower seeds, almond milk, and peanut butter. To get the selenium, I had some mushrooms and brazil nuts. 

The nuts, seeds and peanut butter are also sources of protein. To get more, I made a salad of quinoa, lentils and almond slices, and tossed it in olive oil and lemon juice with salt, pepper and parsley. Quinoa has 8g protein, as well as 21% fiber. (source) Lentils have 18g protein and 63% fiber. (source) Almonds have 20g protein and 46% fiber (source) All RDV percentages are per cup. This salad was a powerhouse!

Time and sleep helped to heal my neck, shoulders and back, but I would like to think nutritious food better allowed the healing process to happen. 

What do you do to repair muscle damage, whether it be from exercise, overexertion in your daily life, or feeling sore while ill with the flu?

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